Meet Emmy Award Winning Screenwriter and Historical Fiction Novelist Alan Brennert

In one paragraph, tell us about your new book, Palisades Park.

Like my novels Moloka’i and Honolulu, Palisades Park tells the “history behind the history” of this renowned amusement park, as seen by young Toni Stopka, daughter of concessionaires, who dreams of becoming a daredevil high diver. Performers, pitchmen, the civil rights demonstrators picketing the gates, the underworld bosses meeting in secret across the street…all their stories are intertwined in a narrative that spans the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, up to the park’s closure in 1971.

What was your favorite novel or screenplay to write?

I enjoyed writing Palisades Park, but the novel I enjoyed most was Moloka’i. I got up every day excited to begin work on that book, because I was writing about a place that I loved—Hawai’i—and a little-known part of history that no one else had approached in quite this way. I did my research in the morning, wrote in the afternoon until dinnertime, and often went back to my computer in the evening if I had a problem that still had to be resolved or a if a new idea had occurred to me that I wanted to get down.

What do you see as the biggest difference between writing a novel and a screenplay?

A screenplay is a blueprint for a film, and my job as a screenwriter is to tell the story through action, dialog, and minimal scene description. But when I’m writing a novel I’m not just the writer, I’m the director, the actors, the location scout, the set dresser, the wardrobe supervisor—I have to create the entire world of the story in words. Each medium has its own challenges and its own rewards.

Tell us about winning an Emmy for your work on the television show, L.A. Law, in 1991. Did you get more satisfaction for this achievement, for the People’s Choice Award, or for winning the Nebula Award for “Ma Qui”?

The Emmy was something I had dreamed about winning since I was a kid—literally. Growing up, my idols were writers like Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, Ernest Kinoy, James Costigan—the men behind the “golden age of television” of the 1950s (most of which I didn’t experience firsthand, being a bit too young, but discovered through reruns and movies). So it was quite a rush being up on stage at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium when L.A. Law won for Best Drama Series. But I’m very proud of my Nebula Award as well, since that was a validation of, and my first award for, my literary work.

What authors or people have most influenced your writing career?

It’s an eclectic mix: authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Jonathan Strong and Ray Bradbury; playwrights like Robert Anderson and Thornton Wilder; and the aforementioned Serling, Costigan, et al. I’ve gone on to write in all those media—books, a play, film—and I like to think I continue to be influenced by good work in each field. (Moloka’i, as I’ve said elsewhere, was inspired by a fine novel called Consider This, Señora by Harriet Doerr, Honolulu shows influences of the work of Arthur Golden and Lisa See, and Palisades Park owes something to Larry McMurtry’s The Desert Rose).

I understand that you are transforming one of your first novels, Time and Chance, into a screenplay. As you revisit this work, where do you see your biggest improvement as a writer over time? Is reworking this novel like visiting an old friend?

I had the opportunity to bring Time and Chance back into print a few years ago, and in the process I found myself doing a fairly heavy polish on it. I didn’t change anything in the story, just polished or simplified the prose where it seemed too flowery or where the syntax was a bit rococo. I performed what I like to call a “semi-colonectomy,” deleting vast numbers of unnecessary commas, semi-colons, dashes, and ellipses that I would not use when writing a novel today. It made me realize that my prose style has evolved since 1990 (when Time and Chance was published)—it’s cleaner, leaner, smoother.

Do you enjoy book tours or writing more?

I’m essentially an introvert who can be extroverted when the occasion demands (you have to be to work in Hollywood, where you collaborate daily with so many people). So although I do enjoy book tours and meeting readers, I’m at heart happiest when sitting in a room writing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about Alan Brennert. To learn more, visit his website (http://www.alanbrennert.com).

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